The next elections will likely be the most parochial yet in Nigeria’s history, not deliberately by anybody’s design but because reality will restrict us to severely limited choices.
Not too long ago I wrote that the political blocs and ethnic nations of Nigeria will be required to make, between now and 2011, profound political choices, and that each should be careful what choices they make, to prevent a rueful and blame-prone future.
Little did I know then that the choices are going to be as straightforward as this clear-cut battle between General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) and President Goodluck Jonathan and, naturally, between what each of them represents. I must stress that it is not so much the personalities, but what they represent. It is about the implications of their presidency in 2011, for the future of Nigeria. The north drew a line in the sand and dared Jonathan to cross it. He did.
While I appreciate that the country’s politics should, by now, be about ideas and ideals it is amusing that many [politically correct] commentators are obviously happy to bury their heads in the sand and pretend Nigeria’s politics is already devoid of ethnic colouration, simply because Obasanjo challenged his oligarchy and because an Ijaw is now President. In reality Nigeria’s ultimate politics is still a battle of nations (call it a tribal war if you like) and to pretend it is anything else at this time is like taking a team to the wrong venue for a football match. Opponents, at the right venue, simply get a walkover victory. Understanding and accepting this reality, or a denial or refusal of it, makes the difference between winners and losers of Nigeria’s peculiar brand of politics.
Still smarting from the bloodbath of their oligarchical in-fighting with Olusegun Obasanjo, when he (Obasanjo) turned what they planned as a token interval into the first real power sharing in Nigeria, the enthronement of an equally pesky Goodluck Jonathan is nothing but salt in the political wound of the north’s leaders. Although both Obasanjo and Jonathan themselves are fully paid, card-carrying members of this oligarchy, Obasanjo has changed, irreversibly, the political geography of Nigeria. Spirited efforts by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and his team to roll the carpet back were only modestly successful because of the short time and his poor health.
Realising now the need to recover lost ground, the north’s leaders have gone for someone with acceptable pedigree, demonstrated loyalty, limitless cash, proven ruthlessness and gushing political savvy.
The decoys of Atiku, Gusau, and Saraki should not fool anyone—they are mere pacemakers for the champion himself, part of a strategy. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, an adoptive son of the caliphate is, within the context, their best candidate by a mile. In fact, the easiest way for them to lose this battle now is to ditch Babangida for one of those stalking horses, and the oligarchy knows better than to do that. Hence they have deployed all of their old and some new political weapons—north versus south, zoning, demonisation of Obasanjo, consensus northern candidate, threats of riots, war and secession, presidency carrot to the Igbo, activation of old and formation, seemingly by the day, of new northern political associations, alleged but yet unproven militancy, etc—in Babangida’s aid.
The other viable alternatives for the north are the duo of General Muhammadu Buhari and Nuhu Ribadu. However, probably nothing would re-unite the powerful efforts of Obasanjo, Babangida, even Atiku and Saraki, or for that matter people like General Theophilus Danjuma, so quickly, as the prospect of a Buhari presidency, since it is easily predictable he (Buhari) will see to it that they are all tried for alleged corruption.
Also, if progressive politics was the overriding requirement, Nuhu Ribadu, of this uninspiring field of declared aspirants, should be President. Despite his own humanly faults, Ribadu’s demonstrated sense of purpose has not been seen since the days of Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo. His responsive populism is comparable only to Emeka Ojukwu’s rally to Biafra. His youthful candour is a refreshing contrast to the disappointment of our expectations in younger politicians like Dimeji Bankole, Segun Oni and the lot. Unfortunately, qualities as Ribadu’s do not win elections in today’s Nigeria. What wins elections is politician-funded thuggery and rigging, supplemented from to time by Aso Rock-sanctioned court decisions, and only a die-hard optimist would think 2011 would be any much better.
It is the tragedy of Nigeria that, lacking experience and lacking a political constituency (read godfathers and thugs) of his own and lacking great wealth, a brilliant inspiration as Ribadu is now forced by the reality of our politics to share his bed with intensely strange fellows in a near hopeless presidential quest.
All of these could only mean that, unless something extraordinary happens in the polity between now and 2011—like IBB decides to step aside once again—our reasonable choices are reduced to Babangida and Jonathan. So how do we Nigerians, caught between the rock and a hard place, make the best of our predicament? What does a Babangida victory in 2011 represent? What is the overriding significance of a Jonathan presidency in 2011?
Nigeria’s problems are so numerous it is unrealistic to wish them all away in a four-year presidential term but, as the Yoruba say, when multiple trees fall across your path, one on top of the other, you clear your way starting with the one on top of the pile. It is about setting priorities.
We must prioritise our national goals; we must set our expectations in order, for the political future of Nigeria. Nigeria’s top political priority today is not who is best able to provide electric power, or who can build the best roads or restore good education, simply because there is a fundamental flaw in the polity, which, unless first redressed, will continue to be a quicksand foundation on which we are attempting to build the other reforms.
Corruption, according to Nuhu Ribadu, is at the heart of all of Nigeria’s problems and most people agree with him. Therefore, our paramount political priority today is to overthrow corruption and, in doing so, we must take it from the foundation—corruption of political power—and that is where the choices between IBB and Jonathan become clear.
Absolute power, they say, corrupts absolutely. Judging by the current banal efforts of a few of the north’s political leaders to continue an hegemony over Nigeria, despite pervading and damning evidence of near fifty years of mismanagement, one could say that absolute power has corrupted the political north absolutely. Absolute power enabled the Fulani-led oligarchy, methodically, to manipulate the economy and politics of Nigeria to the exclusion of the majority, as they arrogated the instruments and resources to only themselves and a few.
Taking full advantage of the authoritarian nature of the lengthy periods of military governments headed by northerners or northern-installed generals, the north bulldozed unjust and illegal policies—for example the social engineering device called national character—and entrenched them, into our politics. For another example, the oligarchs blatantly dictated repeatedly what they thought Nigeria’s constituent populations should be, thereby prejudging all issues of numerical democracy but, in the process, also precluding proper planning.
Installed by absolute power of the ruling oligarchy, Obasanjo neglected real issues of progress in Nigeria for eight years, while he enriched himself and his cronies beyond imagination, causing mayhem in states and encouraging illegality, knowing that the conspiracy of absolute power makes him untouchable.
The exercise of absolute power brought Nigeria to her present sorry state and if any candidate singularly and mostly represents that face of absolute power, where thieves thrived and hard-working folk suffered, where opposition members routinely disappeared and journalists are killed, it is Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
Absolute power meant that the oligarchy could enforce that only a section of Nigeria can reasonably aspire to lead the country.
Nigeria’s political priority now therefore, to the exclusion of all other considerations, is to establish that any eligible Nigerian, from any part of the country, can become the President of Nigeria; the corollary being that any President in power, regardless of what tribe or section he comes from, can be voted out of power when the majority are so convinced. That is what democracy is all about. This is what must be done before any meaningful progression into democracy proper can be made.
Jonathan’s success in 2011 will establish one thing, if anything at all—that any Nigerian from any region can aspire to and become President. Only on that level playing field can we begin to talk of democratic economic reform.
I will shed no tears for the overthrow of this Fulani-led oligarchy. They had their chance—for fifty years—and they blew it, big time! They do not deserve to continue to rule us. Coming to this realisation and, obviously in understandable panic, leading oligarchs have resorted to appeals to base sentiments in their efforts to cling to absolute power. Zoning is just one of their battlefronts.
The fact that zoning became the main issue of debate in these elections is only another evidence of the power of the ruling oligarchy to dictate our political agenda. Obasanjo did not become President of Nigeria because of zoning.
He became President on the back of the annulment of what is yet regarded as Nigeria’s freest and fairest elections. He became president because the Yoruba said enough was enough, rejected the insult of Shonekan’s contrivance, raised an army of ethnic militia (OPC) to counter the usual military menace of the north, and invited the whole world to take a better look at Nigeria.
Obasanjo became president because the Igbo of the southeast acknowledged the injustice of the North’s action and, realising that an annulment of a Yoruba presidency will simply become a passable precedent for the invalidation of all other subsequent non-Fulani (or non-Fulani installed) presidencies, threw in their lot with the forces of political progress.
Obasanjo became president because of NADECO, which, though populated mainly by the Yoruba, was a broad but implacable opposition coalition, drawing membership from all of Nigeria’s ethnic and political blocs. NADECO activists paid the price of Obasanjo’s presidency with their lives and their freedom and some, even when they were forced into exile, carried on the struggle in foreign lands.
Contrary to what is being touted as a deliberate invitation from the north to share power with the south, Obasanjo’s presidency was a desperate act of self-preservation by a Fulani-led oligarchy who, faced with determined calls to split the country into its constituent regions, was yet unwilling to let go of the goose that lays the golden eggs. Even then, Obasanjo was not the Yoruba’s choice. He was a president of the north, by the north and planned, until he turned renegade, to be for the north.
It is nothing short of amusement to see General Babangida smugly claim credit [on CNN] for conducting the best elections in Nigeria, when he only did so by default. Realising that IBB had perfected the art of perpetuating himself in power by leading them severally through the charade of a transition, only to find excuses to cancel elections, Nigerians decided to leave him no room for further excuses in 1993 by making sure of a near flawless election.
However, Babangida may yet win nomination and win the presidency in 2011.